Today, the anniversary of Argentina’s financial crisis…the corralito

How important is it for banks not to fail?  What would the streets look like if all your bank accounts were frozen, no one could withdraw money, and the economy could no longer operate?  Look no further than Argentina.  Today, is the anniversary of the corralito in Argentina, seven years ago, which is not all that long.  For many Argentines it is a stigma and an embarassment, something they want to forget; others are still bitter about those who took advantage during the crisis.  The corralito was the financial crisis in Argentina when all the banks failed and closed at once and one of the main reasons I wanted to study economics here - little did I know I’d be fielding questions from my classmates about failing banks back home.  

My friend told me that when he lived through the crisis, he and his roommates had to buy kilos and kilos of rice and staples to live off for weeks and supermarkets, the same I shop at every day, built barricades of shopping carts to keep out looters.  It’s hard to imagine these scenes you see in this video; being in Buenos Aires feels like being in Philadelphia or in Europe – or at least what I imagine Europe is like!  Argentina on a daily basis today looks NOTHING like this; protests today occur peacefully…soccer games are another story, though!

In la Facultad, they believe one of the key issues for developing Argentina is to finish paying off the loans and to get off the IMF loans and many people are bitter about the debt and loans (today total debt service eats up almost 5% of GDP); as they see it, they were accumulated by U.S. backed dictators who did not use it efficiently.  (Hence the references in the video.)

Watch this video for scenes from that time —– with vampire tangueros to boot; it has English subtitles.  The last one is much less colorful and short – and more violent – for those who want more, part of an entire documentary on Youtube, though in Spanish.  Che, te digo, studying the economy and having a healthy one is important.

12 Vampiros Tangueros


Memoria del Saqueo


A little SLICE of home & my super-culturally-involved roommate

This place is just 3 blocks in my house, and there are at least 2 others in town.  As I said in my previous post, in Buenos Aires, they KNOW what color Kentucky is – and that’s red -  apparently since 1942.dsc016071.JPGdsc01605.JPG


Also from my previous post, my roommate organized some local (as in Buenos Aires) independent filmmakers to show independent films about Bolivia on our roof!!  One was about the violence and crisis in Sucre this past Spring (our Spring, their Fall), the culture of the chola woman, and the best one Yerba Mala Cartonera, a film about independent book makers who print and publish their own books and bind them at regular fairs and comment on literature and access in developing countries.


¡Promocioné! At least in one class so far….

One down…two to go.  I completed International Economics yesterday with a high enough grade to skip out on the final; it’s called being promoted.  Prof Soltz – he goes by Hernán to his students – told me he had some doubts about me at the start but my level of Spanish saved me and surprised him – and that I helped soften his bias against international students taking his course since no others have ever finished.  Why he didn’t warn me from the start, I don’t understand.  (To be fair, most of his international students have been German, while I had the benefit of being able to obtain some of the original articles in English.)  I still have Economic Growth and Economic Development to go.

I am so happy and proud to have passed one “materia” so far!  I really am proud; this has been such a challenging experience personally and academically.  I worked so freaking hard.  This sounds ridiculous to my friends who know me as a very good student….but for me it has just-been-a-victory-to-survive in this university!  I am the only visiting American student here at UBA’s College of Economics, and there are 50 international students – mostly Colombian, German, French, and Austrian – out of 40,000 students in just the public College of Economic Sciences.  I feel proud to represent and contradict over and over some biases my fellow students have about Americans.  Only a couple or three weeks ago, I received the results of our midterms.  I survived my 3 midterms without needing a recuperatorio.  You can retake and makeup one exam here, which sounds great, until you realize that because of that, it is not too difficult to fail with 3 questions, open response, 2 hours.  In all of my classes, I was the only, that is ONLY international student, non-native speaker to not FAIL my exams (Um, culture alert: they read your test grades OUT LOUD.), except for one other in Desarrollo who barely passed with the lowest possible score.  What I mean is we get no hand-holding for not speaking Spanish as a first language.  Actually, at such a huge public university, Argentine students get no hand-holding either. This is the big difference between the public and private universities here.  While the atmosphere breeds responsibility; still, the serious lack of student development programs and academic support also has its definite negatives.  All the students who come here have to be independent and mature, do their work, or face failing; I would say at least 1/3 of the native Argentine students in my course, or more, failed their midterms. 

I am skipping family Christmas, and so I look forward to finally getting to travel after exams until next semester begins because I haven’t gotten to do that yet much.  I have gotten to know – a little too well – Harrod and Domar and Ramsey and Romer and Stiglitz and Krugman and Shell and Dosi and Solow because I directly enrolled at an Argentina university, instead of opting for a regular program which do factor in the importance of outside excursions.  But that’s the exciting thing about study abroad – is that you can opt to study in places you have only dreamed of visiting and in a program that meets YOU where you are as a student and as a person.  Because I live on my own with a group of gals from Chile and Argentina and Mexico and France and not with Argentina “parents,” last weekend, I connected into the local cultural scene (which is amazing) when some guys estrenaron in Buenos Aires independent Bolivian documentaries on our rooftop terrace to an audience of 50, while earlier in the evening I made homemade ceviche from scratch with my Peruvian friend and her daughter last weekend.  I don’t have much free time, but I take time for culture, just mostly I’m studying economics. 

I leave you with some photos of the documentary event 3 blocks from my house…note that Pizza Kentucky knows what color Kentucky is about – that’s RED!  ¡Besitos argentinos!

in my culture…

Studying abroad leads you to many conversations that start out like this, “Well, in my culture in the United States…”  It is an interesting experience to be on the other end of questions from Argentines and French folks and to trade back and forth our impressions of each other’s cultures, habits, and why we think we live the way we do.  Studying abroad, I can’t help but find myself in these strange, awkward conversations trying to explain and at the same time tease out what is my own culture, making grandiose generalizations about the United States, something I never do at home.  Still, in this election time with all the polarizing dialogues, which the Bachmann controversy is presently putting in the spotlight, it’s a positive exercise to reflect on what we all DO have in common in our culture.
Last night, over a pizza at Café las Ciencias and a group project measuring and calculating equivalent ad valorem tariff rates in the U.S. and European Economic Community, one of my group members from France started telling me about the two gals from the United States in her building that were on vacation.  These gals went out every night until 5 or 6 am to “boliches,” or dances, and slept until two or three in the afternoon; they got up only to go to the gym and eat and begin the cycle all over again.  She said she didn’t understand why they find doing the same thing over and over again interesting.  Of course, I pointed out to her that people within the United States or any country are very heterogeneous, which for me is a positive, and that this kind of lifestyle or relaxation past, say, 22 years of age for me and many others holds no appeal.  We also started talking about why it is that many more Europeans vacation to destinations all over the world than Americans, who tend to be more highly represented on cruise ships and at beach front resorts.
This led me to an interesting observation, which I believe to be true.  We, the United States people, live in a culture of extremes; we like to live or believe we live intensely.  In part, our advertising culture trains us into this thinking.  These gals who go out to the boliches probably work very hard at their regular jobs to afford a week blowing off steam in South America.  Most Americans I know work very hard because they don’t have another choice, the standards for even basic jobs like store clerk in our country seem to demand much higher levels of productivity.  We work hard until our eyeballs hurt, then all we want to do when we are finished with our jobs is plop down in front of the television.  When we vacation, often we elect to go to a tropical beach with piña coladas and back massages before we go to a crowded city like Jakarta, for example. 
Before you accuse me of lacking patriotism, this is not at all saying Americans our lazy, simply that we vegetate intensely because we work at a more frantic pace.  The distance between our utility from relaxing and our disutility from work grows ever higher as we cling to our extremes.  Just as the basic assumptions behind utility tell us that higher utility comes from a consumption basket with more variety than a basket full of two of the same good, I think we could be happier if we all leveled out a little, myself included. 
Moreover, over a medium run, extreme work habits shunt our creativity and our productivity, and certainly the stress can shorten our lives.  A couple years ago, I read in a book on Simplicity (the popularity of these books in the U.S. and even the fact I was reading this is evidence that we work and do too much) that one will be much happier if one learns to love – not dread – all the things that one has to do.  One always has to make sure he or she gets a meal, cleans, makes the bed, sees that the laundry is done, lives below one’s means, and goes to a job or is in some way productive.  The secret to happiness is to love what you are going to have to do anyway. 
So whenever it takes me 20 minutes to get through the checkout lane because the clerk is taking her time here in Argentina, I am not stressed or flustered – because no one else is.  I have something to read or my iPod, and I know it takes me just as long at Wal-mart, only I wouldn’t notice because I’d be busy being rushed or complaining.

Studying, studying!


This semester at Universidad de Buenos Aires, I am taking Economic Growth, Development Economics, and International Economics .  As you can see from the bibliographies –which contain some English article titles or at least some authors that should be known to folks with a cursory interest in economics – they are definitely challenging!  There is definitely a TREND in every course toward lots of reading and exploring the evolution of economic thought; I started the semester in every class reading about Ricardo, Smith, Hume, or all of the above.  THIS is why I haven’t been posting so much.

There is so much happening in the Economics College here of 40,000 students; it is an exciting place to study.  Because the public university here is considered dog eat dog and overall harder and more prestigious than the private universities by the Argentinean students, students seem really engaged in economics.  One of our professors organized international trade seminars hosting economists from all over the world, including the United States, as well as functionaries from the Argentina government that make day-to-day economic decisions, that he invited us to today.  I will see if I can at least attend part of one. 

The level of my Spanish language ability has certainly grown – that specifically is my ability to follow two hour long Economic Growth lectures explaining the various variables that made up Solow’s growth model and differentiating it from Harrod’s entirely in Spanish – calculus definitely not optional.  At least I don’t have to translate the math symbols!  Also, one of our readings for this part of the unit are two of Solow’s original paper published in 1956 “A Contribution to the Theory of Economic Growth” and “Technical Change and the Aggregate Production Function,” as well as Harrod and Domar’s original papers from the 30s and 40s, which are harder to follow than your average textbook to be sure.  Of course, some of the required readings are classic economic texts in English for which there are no translations; students graduating in this career are expected to know it.  This certainly serves me, though. This all may sound kind of boring to an outsider, but it’s really very exciting –and overwhelming – to be challenged at this level with my language as a barrier.  It’s one thing to go to a country and engage it at the level of turismo, but quite another to learn and go through a similar process of formation alongside young people from this country in one of its top universities.  I have never had an experience like this in my life.  It has been a challenge just learning how to study under a new and different academic system.  Being challenged like this, stepping into a native language classroom with some of the hardest classes I’ve taken in my life in any language, has already forced me to learn so much.  I am just taking it all paso a paso, step by step.  Of course, all those steps lead right to the library! – where I read alongside pigeons that enter through open windows and students drinking mate tea for hours while studying.

Congratulations, Argentina on the Olympic Gold Medal in soccer!

This is Emily reporting to you live from Argentina!  It is 3:30am here, and 2:30am in Louisville (well, it was when I wrote this note before my laptop crashed)…and Argentina has recently won the GOLD medal in soccer in the Olympics.  I have just come back from the centro, where I filmed a short video of the celebration.  As you can imagine, folks were in the street in the centro dancing and jumping up and down.  Cars were honking wildly.  It was really fun to be here for it.

I wish I could upload it, but it seems this WordPress application has not been allowing me to upload pictures, let alone videos for the last few months!  I have played around in the help me files several times to no avail.  I can upload a file, but once I do, it’s corrupted.  But this post is about….Congratulations Argentina!  And have you ever noticed how North–centric it is to call the Olympic summer games by that name when it’s the middle of winter in other parts of the world?

¡Que vivan las universidades públicas!

I hopped a plane from Michelle to Cristina.  (Michelle Bachelet is the president of Chile; Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is the president of Argentina.)  I figured that was a good sign for a solo female traveler.  In Chile, I picked up an Economist in English for a full $10!  Still, I needed some familiar reading and to get back into current events.

Four things I LOVE: maps, navigating public transportation systems (here I bought a Guía T in a local kiosko for about USD $2), speaking Spanish, and urban centers.  Using the combination of the three to navigate myself around the latter has been quite an enjoyable adventure.

FOR THE RECORD, a little myth-busting: I want to comment on the EXCELLENT service I have received so far as an international student at Argentina’s public university.  Everyone told me that I should try to enroll in a private university because surely there, I would find much better assistance and services.  I was told that the public system and bureaucracy would be a nightmare to navigate.  So far, so good.  I have found the class lists online with little difficulty and have navigated their website easily.  I was given a list of requirements to apply, which I fulfilled, and when I arrived, there were no surprises about some form they needed.  I showed up to my Facultad (college) yesterday my first day; I thought class enrollment could be a potential nightmare.  I was given one, (again, that’s ONE) sheet of paper to fill out with my desired classes, which it seems I’m guaranteed as part of the services and courtesy I receive being a visiting student.  ¡Que gentileza!  True, finding the office of International Services on the 2 ½ floor above the graduate school offices was tricky, but it was a pleasant adventure wandering the halls of the lovely, old colonial building.  At every step along the way, I encountered kind people willing to help direct me and/or chat.  La Secretaria directed me to the foreign language school, and I am enrolled in an intensive Spanish class for a month until the beginning of September in Level 7 of 8.  So far, Universidad de Buenos Aires….te amo.Early on in January, I attempted to contact the Universidad de Palermo, a private university.  I got bounced emails and unhelpful responses, sometimes no responses.  I got responses that the woman in charge was on vacation.  Apparently, she was on vacation for months.  I tried to get help from their MBA offices, explaining I was still an undergraduate.  All I got was their newsletter – which I still get.  I STILL have not heard back from them.  In short, a private university, UP, whose MBA program costs maybe $15,000 a year has – terrible service.

Word to the wise, study abroaders: I am of the school of thought that packing for too many contingencies is just plain silly; just bring your tools.  However, do yourself a favor, and bring yourself a full supply of GOOD Q-tips!

Last night, a Peruvian friend and I went to a really cool restaurant turística called La Candelaria  Also, there was a lot of audience participation and an MC has everyone come up and instruct people in folk dances.  It was a great time; a mix of watching these amazing dancers dance to the live band and also in between, we danced the salsa and cumbia to the live band.  At one point, all the foreigners were brought up onto the stage; the only other folks from the States that night were a family from D.C. and a gal whose mother is Peruvian from Oklahoma.  There were people from all over South America and Europe, quite a representation!  We had to dance our own ”cultural” dances for the audience.  For example, the French folks were made to do the can-can; this also experientially gives the outsiders a caution of how ridiculous it really is to water down a culture into a spectacle of festival and fashion.  I assure you that I well represented our culture with my interpretation of Boogie Nights and disco.  ¡Viva disco! 

Today, I went to Pachacamac with some other friends; these are the ruins just outside the city.  We walked and saw amazing Incan ruins on top of the ruins of other civilizations; just as the Spaniards built Cathedrals on top of temples later to prove their superiority, so did the conquering Incans.     

On a side note, not having other people my age in a study group around me, forces me to have to be outgoing and make friends with people here.  I love this because I actually spend my time relating in Spanish, which is exactly what I intended.  Not that I couldn’t have done that otherwise, but it’s too easy to slip into the comfort of your first language.  From this foreigner’s experience (in this case a US foreigner in Peru), it really does help when you raise your voice to speak to a foreigner!  It forces the native speaker to talk a little more slowly and annunciate the consonants.   I’ve been thinking a lot about my friends here.  I’ve always heard that the U.S. has one of the most mobile labor forces, and that sounds like a boring and ridiculous fact.  Knowing all the expenses of moving and the number of people who feel trapped and can’t move, this doesn’t always ring true to me…until you see the way that family works in a fairly poor and traditional working class barrio.  Here, in Callao, people build their houses, literally, floor by floor, partition by partition.  I was shocked to see a friend’s house that looks like a gutted out building with doors because it’s just cement.  Getting by is a full family effort, and it’s interesting to have conversations with people of my generation of late twenties and early thirties young adults, who have passed their youth phase and are truly into their young adulthood.  The pressure to live at home after all that time with family-not only before marriage but also after and with kids- is so strong and sometimes takes negative, guilt manifestations.  My peers I talk to are so interested and somewhat jealous in the fact that I live such a separate life from my parents, so independent and can hardly imagine it.  Family networks may be an economic survival mechanism but definitely not one that everyone would chose if they had a better economic option.

With all due respect to the multitude of belief systems, this is just a commentary of my observations.  We have become accustomed in the States to accepting nothing less than true religious tolerance, and that freedom of religion truly means freedom to practice one’s religion, not forced to follow the tenants of someone else’s.  Ahem, um, mostly.  There is a whole lot of interesting things going on in the Catholic Church in Peru, and this is a matter of political importance here since there is not separation of church here.  Internationally, and in Peru in the last decade, the Catholic Church is becoming very conservative and into evangelizing and abolishing all the ideas and music of Vatican II.  Part of it is a response to growing Protestantism here, but not in the way we even think of in the States.  To me, it’s so fascinating that many Peruvian folks don’t have a concept of how you can coexist in a family with different beliefs, nor who have a concept of what we think of mainstream Protestantism in the US.  The majority of the formation of new, Protestant, aka non-Catholic churches that are here takes on the form of holy wars with pictures of the bishop as a devil and all.  The Catholic Church in Peru for its part is now responding in kind, with similar, authority language.  Old style, liberation theologian, and community modeling Catholics still exist, but they have all been removed from any power and, some, even from their charges.

Ciao for now!

Un montón de cosas (as the limeños, or people from Lima, say)

cemetery-callao-peru8.JPG21 de junio

Last night, we went to the mass for P*’s mother.  It was really beautiful.  The whole church is the color of lavender because it represents one of the patron saints of the country.  This saint is called the Lord of the Miracles after a building that collapsed in a sismo or earthquake and left only a wall upon which a certain picture of Jesus was painted.  Every October, people who want to ask for a miracle wear a purple dress or covering all month. I was so sad for my friend P*.  She lives one block from me in Kentucky at the house where I did my internship.  She is a Peruvian, but won the lottery and has been a resident of the U.S. for several years and works in Louisville.  She is very dear, and we were planning to travel together for months just on my way to Peru, so I could help her carry her things for her and her infant.  There are quite a few Peruvians in Louisville, and I brought a whole extra suitcase with things just for some my friends’ and acquaintances’ families.  However, when her mother suddenly died, she had to leave quickly for Peru.  She still missed the burial.  I’m really glad I was able to be there.  At the very least, it demonstrated to her family, that even her friends from Kentucky, from another continent, mourn with them.  She has many friends in Louisville through her work at Kenwood and the people at St. Williams. 

The ceremony was very large, several hundred people.  The mass honors the one month anniversary of her death and is a very common celebration in addition to the traditional funeral.  It is a way to say thank you to the friends and family who supported them through their grief because at the end, a large meal is given to everyone in attendance.  In this case, C*’s favorite, the dish, Ahi de gallina, which reminded me a lot of etouffe but with chicken.  I think it’s very beautiful because families are usually too in shock at the time of a funeral to truly be present in spirit to celebrate the life of their loved one.  There were hundreds there because her family is very well loved and respected in the barrio.  Her father was involved in neighborhood politics for years, even once a city council person.  The mother ran the capilla’s program to teach First Communion classes for years, which included supervising the parejas guias and young animadores who helped and included classes for parents on raising your children in the Catholic tradition.

The humorous thing – and C* warned me about this – is because I’m hanging with the Sisters and look a little different, many people assume I am a nun.  They call me Hermana Emily and Madrecita.  This is all a stretch considering I am not Catholic!  Sister C*, or just C*, has been excellent.  She has taken charge of being my own personal tour guide.  Yesterday, we went to the market, and she pointed out all the unfamiliar fruits, and the llama jerkey, charqui.  Through her, I’ve met street vendors, people on the street, the people at the market she knows, and know who the neighborhood thieves are.  I need to get started looking for the alpaca jerkey and meat for Dr. Markowitz.  This is going to be a fun adventure.  There is much more and mostly lamb, chicken, beef, and fish.  Cow stomach is especially popular. 

Callao where I’m staying is a poorer suburb of Lima.  The buildings look ok from the street, but seen from above with the roofs, many of them are more like shacks for the quality of the roofs and the way houses are on top of one another.  The sisters try to live as close to the lives of the people in the barrio as possible, so we eat and live very simply but comfortably.  That’s what I love about my trip to Peru, many might think it is a waste of time to have to clean, cook, and hand wash their own clothing, but for me, I feel like I am gaining more of the culture because I can have deeper conversations in Spanish because I understand the language and can conform to practices of not just the people in the richest neighborhoods.

I start my charges in the parroquial school on Monday.  I’m helping tutor in math and supplement their English classes.  I think this will leave me plenty of time to handwash all my clothes, do my research paper, and study for the GRE in the afternoons and evenings.  Hasta prontito!

UPDATE – Here are some pictures.  I spent part of the afternoon at P*’s mother’s grave with the family, talking and visiting and saying some prayers.  Cemetaries are very different here.  This cemetery is most like ones we know in the United States but because land is so costly, in one grave spot, they bury five people.  A more common way in the city because of the urban problem are more like these mausoleums that are huge and are now being constructed even with second stories.  C* took me to visit to see this important and interesting cultural difference in terms of how families in a place where families and parents and grandparents are highly valued and often live In close proximity deal with the loss of a loved one.  This is an economic problem, how they honor their dead and make funerals sacred when encountering a serious scarcity of resources: land (because most Latin America countries are even more urbanized than the States with megacities like Lima attracting a huge part of the population) as well as money.